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Innovative signed interpretation of children’s play

18 Jul 2012

This content is tagged as Theatre .


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Capital E National Theatre for Children is making the most of technology to provide an innovative sign language-interpreted performance of the play Magnolia Street at Downstage Theatre in Wellington on Wednesday 25 July.

Stephen Blackburn, Creative Producer, believes that traditional signing in theatre “isn’t particularly satisfying if the interpreter is off to the side of the stage”. With the use of technology, New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) interpreter Elinor Cuttiford will be incorporated into the screen elements of the production.

“This has been a wonderful chance to explore how creative ideas can be used to incorporate the interpretation into the performance,” Stephen says. “Thanks to the audio visual technology, the signed interpretation is more inclusive and Elinor gets to be more a part of the rhythm and energy of the stage."

It also means there is an opportunity to repeat the signed performance for Deaf and hearing-impaired audiences for little additional cost and preparation.

A $3000 grant from Creative New Zealand to support sign-interpreted performances has enabled the national theatre company to think more artistically about the incorporation of signing into performances, Stephen says.

“We’re very excited about the potential of this project, which we think may be a first for New Zealand. Our aim is to achieve a fusion of creative technology and contemporary theatre performances.”

The development of the project is due in large part to the input of Nicola Clements, whose experience through her own theatre company Odd Socks Productions gives her a breadth of experience and understanding of deafness in a theatrical setting. Odd Socks creates works that can be enjoyed by Deaf and hearing audiences alike. It also promotes awareness and advises on public policy about access to the arts for Deaf and hearing-impaired people.

For NZSL interpreters such as Elinor Cuttiford, working with Capital E to interpret plays is more theatrical than the usual translation experience.

Elinor, who is also the Deafblind Services Co-ordinator at the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind, says that momentum is building in New Zealand to make theatre accessible to people with sensory loss.

“The resources are there. It’s just a matter of using them effectively,” she says. “I’m really excited to be a part of this initiative and explore different ways of opening up theatre to the Deaf community. ”

The company has just finished a North Island tour of Around the World and Buck Again, a story of four dogs in quarantine and the unravelling mystery of a secret identity among them. Stephen says the company plans to to incorporate signing roles into the quarantine officer characters in this play. 

Stephen is eager to find out how this latest innovation works for Deaf audiences attending Magnolia Street and explore its long-term possibilities.

Magnolia Street by Dave Armstrong will premiere Downstage Theatre from 23 to 27 July before touring nationally until mid-September. The sign interpreted performance is at 10am on Wednesday 25 July.